You’ve heard it a million times: The Web has leveled the playing field for small businesses. Great. But what does that mean. The Web is intimidating. How does someone take advantage of that new playing field? Where do you start and how do you get the most bang for your buck?
Last week, Anita Campbell was kind enough to take part in Verizon’s Small Business series webinar and shed light on some of these questions, giving small business owners five ways to increase their Web presence.
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Start with a solid home base
When potential customers land on your Web site, it takes less than a few seconds for them to decide if you’re credible enough to do business with. And that decision often isn’t based on your reputation, your integrity or your product. It’s based on how professional your Web site looks. This is where a lot of small businesses fail, simply because they don’t understand establishing credibility on the Web.
Your first step is to get the best domain name you can afford. You want to make sure it’s short, easy to spell AND remember, and that you’re sticking with a .com domain, rather than a .net or .org. If you opt for a domain name that ends with something that is NOT .com, you immediately lose out on valuable type-in traffic, as people will just assume you use a the standard .com top level domain. Anita recommended registering the domain from registrars like GoDaddy  or Network Solutions  for the longest time increment possible, both because you’ll lose your whole site should you forget to renew it and because there’s some theory that the search engines “trust” sites more with longer registrations.
Get Found in Search Engines Naturally
Start with good copy writing, content that is geared toward humans instead of the search engines. You don’t want to invest in pages that are so stuffed with keywords that a human brain won’t be able to parse the information. Think of how a customer might search. What terms would they use? Try to come up with complete phrases instead of single words. How would someone look for what you offer?
Bolt a blog on your site. Blogs are great because they’re keyword-rich and a constant source of content. Anita suggested starting off with a free blog hosted on a site like Blogger , WordPress  or Typepad  because of how simple they are to set up. If you’re going to invest time in blogging, I think it’s worth “bolting” your blog onto your domain as early as possible so that you control it. Otherwise, you’re going to have to worry about migrating the content over at a later date and that can be a headache. And by “can be” I mean “it is”.
You also want to look at on page factors like your navigation. Would a user have difficulty finding the different parts of your site? Look at your URLs, are they user friendly? You should also make sure you have a reliable host so your Web site doesn’t go down and that your code is as clean as possible. If you know some HTML, pay close attention to your Title tags, Descriptions and Image ALT tags. Anita recommended getting a site audit by a professional SEO and I’d strongly agree with that. We do them for clients all the time and it’s a great way to pick out what parts of your site could be most easily tweaked for the biggest rewards.
Increase Findability Offline
If you want your site to rank, it is crucial that you’re able to develop links. This takes a mix of creativity and hard work and is a constant battle for most sites on the Web. Some ways you’ll be able to drive links to your Web site are to write content that will be useful to sites in your community, through social media, to make your site a resourceful or to experiment with thing like images or online video.
Another way to get backlinks is to list your site in the local search directories . These directories are important because not only do they count as trusted links to your site, but they ensure that your site is correctly listed in their index, which will in turn help you to rank.
Amplify your online presence with social media
Social media is a great way for small businesses to enhance their online presence. To get started, Anita recommended experimenting with sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the others that you constantly see other small businesses using. However, quickly focus your efforts to avoid spreading yourself too thin. When you’re out there in social media, share your information, but also listen. You can’t just walk into a room shouting, “Buy My Stuff!”. You need to meet people, talk to them and interact with them. Engaging in social media will also help you in the Google/Social Media index where Google will index some of your social mentions.
Know when to bring in a professional
At some point, you may decide it’s necessary to bring in a professional to help you market your Web site. At that point, it becomes learning how to identify the deceptive SEO companies  from the trustworthy ones. You always want to run, don’t walk, from guaranteed results. Do background checks. Ask other small business owners for referrals. Ask for samples of their work
Also, don’t be afraid to hire based on expertise. Some firms are better apt to deal with Web design projects, while some will focus in social media. There are many different flavors of SEO companies – PPC managers, link builders, social media consultants, bloggers, email marketers, etc. Hire for your need.